Spoilers for TBFTGOF and the Serpents Lair-Politics Arc (Epilogue)
The Shadow of Joy
Daniel couldn't help the goofy smile that broke on his face as Jack pulled him into a hug. He felt the warmth of the older man against him, the breath on his neck, and even the pounding of Jack's heart against his own chest.
Alive. They were all alive. His smile faded as he raised his arms to return the embrace, suddenly more desperate than joyous as he found himself briefly back in that dark corridor, his chest smoking, with Jack kneeling over him. A warm palm on his cheek. The horror in Jack's brown eyes. The horror in his own as he watched Jack leave, knowing it would be the last time he ever saw his friend. Knowing they were all going to die.
And, yet, here they were. Alive. No serious injuries. One intact planet with the remnants of two destroyed Goa'uld motherships hurtling through Earth's atmosphere...somewhere. Or had they all burned up already? Maybe even crashed. There was a frightening thought. He was sure the military was already on top of the situation, making sure all evidence that aliens existed was wiped clean.
Jack pulled back, his eyes dropping instantly to Daniel's chest, and his smile faded momentarily, then brightened again. "How?" He looked back up at Daniel.
Daniel shrugged, rubbing his palm absently against the shirt that covered his recently-healed flesh. "The sarcophagus."
Jack blinked, his smile vanishing as he shook his head. Was that denial on his face? Disbelief? Guilt? "How?" he asked again, his voice rough.
"I made it." Daniel took a deep breath. "Barely in time, but I remembered at the last moment. I...." His voice faltered. He really didn't want to go into details about how he'd dragged himself to the sarcophagus, barely holding on to consciousness, feeling each breath and each beat of his heart and wondering if it would be his last. "I made it," he said again, tearing his eyes away from Jack to look at Sam and Teal'c. His smile returned. "We all did."
No, not all. Catherine's face sprang to mind. Followed by Sam's and, finally, Jack's. The other ones. The ones that hadn't made it. The ones that had given up their last chance to escape to send him back home on the slim hope that maybe he could save his Earth from Goa'uld.
"Yeah." Jack nodded, smiling again. "We did."
And, suddenly, Daniel found himself in the embrace of another warm body. Blond hair tickled his cheek, and he smiled, putting his arms around the woman.
"Thank God." Sam breathed into his ear, then pulled back, her eyes glistening with tears.
The party was loud. Voices stumbled over one another, pulsing through the room and bouncing off the walls to blend into a steady, monotonous beat.
Daniel stood wedged in the corner, eyeing the festivities distantly. Was it all a dream? It hardly seemed real. He blinked, half-expecting to find himself back in that dark corridor on the ship. Or maybe the reality in front of him would waver and the other one would take its place. Maybe he'd see Jack's dead, cold eyes staring at him. Or Sam's. Or Catherine's.
Maybe none of it was real. Maybe he had died. Maybe this was the afterlife. A dream. Maybe the Other Side was nothing more than a fantasy and heaven was made of wishes.
It couldn't be real, could it? He took a deep breath, his chest tight. They couldn't really have defeated two Goa'uld motherships. He hadn't really dragged himself to the sarcophagus and made it off the ship in the nick of time. Jack, Sam, and Teal'c hadn't all escaped on the gliders.
But, God, it looked real. He saw Jack on the other side of the room talking with Ferretti, both grinning madly. He pulled his gaze away from the two men and searched the room for Sam. There she was. With Janet. Smiling. Laughing. Talking. Breathing.
And Teal'c. Daniel's eyes scanned the room again. Teal'c was standing next to Hammond and Bra'tac, his face solemn but his eyes betraying a hint of mirth. He looked so much like the Teal'c in that other reality who had killed Jack and put a scorching hole in Daniel's arm...yet he was so different.
Here, Teal'c was happy. Here, he was free. Back in that other reality, he was very likely dead with the rest of them.
Who would mourn them? Was anyone alive on that Earth? Was there anyone left to grieve?
The room shimmered, and Daniel blinked back tears. He pushed himself away from the corner and quietly slipped out of the room.
"...Oh, yeah, definitely before Christmas." Ferretti chuckled.
Jack nodded, a grin on his face. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a figure slip through the doorway. Pulling his gaze from Ferretti, he scanned the room, searching for Daniel, but didn't find him.
"Excuse me." Jack patted Ferretti on the arm and turned from his friend, heading for the door.
He weaved through the crowd, making it into the corridor and closing the door behind him. The party noises dampened to a hum. The corridor itself was quiet and empty.
Jack waited a moment, listening for footsteps, but heard nothing. Frowning, he hurried forward, his own boots clicking loudly against the hard floor.
Daniel hadn't been in a particularly festive mood back at the party. In fact, the kid seemed downright morose. Jack wasn't sure why. There was plenty to celebrate. Apophis was dead along with Klorel...and Skaara....and, Dear God, maybe even Sha're. No one had seen her, not even Bra'tac, but she was host to Apophis' queen, and, although none of them had voiced the thought outright, they knew it was possible that she'd been on one of the ships.
Okay, so there was plenty to mourn, too.
He followed the corridor to the elevator, then took it upward. Stopping at a familiar level, he hurried out of the lift as the doors parted, turned left, and continued a few feet until he reached Daniel's office. The door was closed, and he knocked.
A soft voice answered him, muffled by the door. "Come in."
Jack pushed the door open and peeked his head inside. It took his eyes a moment to adjust to the dimness, but he spotted Daniel sitting on the floor next to a dangerously tall bookcase, his back to the wall.
"Hey." Jack moved inside and closed the door behind him, bathing the room in an even greater darkness. Carefully, he made his way over to Daniel, then slid down the wall to sit next to him. He let the silence linger a moment, then said, "She wasn't on that ship, Daniel. Bra'tac would've known if she was. We would've seen her. She's out there, and now she's free of Apophis. We'll find her."
Daniel looked at Jack and blinked. "I know."
A small smile touched Daniel's lips, and he leaned his head back against the wall. "I know she wasn't on that ship."
He shrugged. "I just do. Maybe because I have to."
"Okay," Jack said carefully. "Skaara?"
"Yeah." A sadness touched Daniel's voice. "Among others."
"What is it?" Jack asked gently, his voice hushed in deference to the heavy silence of the room. The party was far, far away.
"You all died," Daniel's voice trembled, "all because of me."
Ah. Jack took a deep breath. His head was already beginning to hurt. "The us in that alternate reality?"
"But we're alive here."
"I know." Daniel sounded suspiciously close to tears. "But...I just... It happened so fast, I didn't have time to think much about it. I guess I didn't want to think much about it, but they gave up their lives to send me home. They could've escaped through the Stargate. They had one last shot, but they let me use it. They let me walk through that gate. They'd just met me. They couldn't even be sure that the same thing would happen here that happened to them. But they did it anyway. On faith. And they knew it would mean their deaths. And they did it, anyway and, well... I just think someone should remember that. Someone should mourn them. And I think I might be the only one left who can."
Jack swallowed hard. He hadn't known all the details of Daniel's stay in that other dimension, but he shuddered to think about the fate that Earth and the SGC had met in that reality. It was a fate that could've happened in his reality had it not been for Daniel and his stubborn persistence.
And had it not been for another Sam Carter and another Jack O'Neill and another Catherine Langford who had traded their lives to save a world they didn't even know.
Jack leaned closer to Daniel and slid his arm across the young man's shoulders. "Not the only one. Not anymore."
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